Thursday 18 April 2024

Back to Kilwinning 13th April 2024

Mark P lives in the next village to my home in Oxfordshire and freely admits to be a novice birder. He expressed a desire to spend a few days birding at the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs and surrounding areas in North Yorkshire and suggested we go on Sunday the 14th and return on Wednesday the 17th of April.

I was more than happy to concur as he generously offered to drive and arrange our accommodation.

Meanwhile the long staying Myrtle Warbler, that I had been to see twice remained at Kilwinning in North Ayrshire.see here It was now in immaculate breeding plumage, a pleasing combination of grey, black and white offset by a bright yellow rump, crown stripe and pectoral patches. In birder's parlance, a 'stunner'  and only the second time  as far as I am aware, that an American warbler has been seen in its spring breeding finery in Britain.

Jokingly I suggested to Mark we should go to see it as this would get him his first serious mega and kick start his burgeoning birding hobby, big time. To my surprise he was up for it and thus we set off on our northern jaunt a day earlier than planned on Saturday, intending to spend the night near Kilwinning before driving back south to our B and B accommodation at Bempton on Sunday 

We left Oxfordshire at 6am and drove non stop as far as Tebay, through weather that became increasingly foul as we headed north. A quick coffee at a rain and mist shrouded Tebay Services set us up for the last leg to Kilwinning. Looking at the weather forecast the rain and mist would apparently desist before we got there.We could but hope. 

We arrived at our destination around noon and Kilwinning was, as on my previous two visits, grey, cold and a little damp but our spirits were high as we already knew the warbler had been seen earlier in the  morning.

Opening the door that grants access to the tiny communal garden that the warbler favoured we were pleased to find only one other birder present, so there would be no issues about overcrowding in the restricted space.The birder told us we had just missed the warbler.

A short wait was all that was required before I heard the familiar tzick tzick call of the warbler and then seconds later the star turn appeared on the fence at the bottom of the garden.

Naturally Mark was delighted at this almost instant success, while I cautioned it was not always this sraightforward. The bird looked absolutely perfect in its newly moulted plumage and followed its familar routine of chasing off Blue and Great Tits then indulging in the occasional bout of singing and feeding in the trees that ran alongside the public footpath at the bottom of the gardens.

We took our photos, now with the added bonus of various props erected by photographers to enhance their images of the bird. Chief amongst these was a small moss covered log laid on top of the fence.To tempt the warbler onto it crushed dried mealworms were sprinkled in the moss.

It worked a treat and we stood and watched as the warbler returned for short bouts of feeding on top of the log in between disappearing into the trees behind the fence. It also  spent time just idling in the trees and would perch for a few minutes either singing or just looking around but for the most part was its usual hyperactive self.

Our position in the garden meant we were sheltered and under cover but I had become aware that although the rain showers had ceased to be replaced by sunny periods, as predicted the wind had been steadily gaining strength and was now very strong.We had been watching the warbler for over an hour when we decided to go to nearby Saltcoats on the coast as Mark had never seen a Black Guillemot.

They frequent the harbour but today we were out of luck as on arriving we found the wind was so fierce  birding was nigh on impossible.The wind and waves raged from The Firth of Clyde into the harbour and not unaturally there was no sign of any Black Guillemots just a trio of sheltering Eider Ducks, fast asleep,  bobbing up and down in the surging waves. The other side of the seawall was apocalyptic with huge waves and howling wind.

It was truly attritional walking on the seafront.We managed to find a flock of twenty or so Turnstones and some Starlings in a sheltered corner, tossing over storm blown seaweed looking for food but that was it.We also tried nearby Ardrossan Harbour too but again drew a blank just finding more sheltering Eiders.

Sometimes you just have to accept it is not going to happen and at another nearby weather battered place called Stevenston Point, also birdless due to the conditions, we retired to a cafe for a consolation coffee and piece of cake.

Mark had booked our accommodation at a hotel in Kilmarnock, fifteen minutes drive from Kilwinning so, at a loss where to find any other birds, we opted to return for more of the Myrtle Warbler before going on to the hotel.

We found the same birder in the garden when we first arrived at noon. He had come to the same conclusion  as us about the weather, so together the three of us watched the Myrtle Warbler as it came and went on the fence and in the trees at the bottom of the garden.

We learnt that the warbler had now been present  in and around the garden for 55 days and Jimmy, who found the warbler and lives next door to the communal garden had raised over £3000.00 from birder's donations to his nominated cancer charity.

The light began to fade as clouds returned in the late afternoon so we decided to head for Kilmarnock and our overnight accommodation, the Portmann Hotel. It turned out to be a pub with rooms rather than a hotel and although the staff were friendly and helpful the rooms were frankly dreadful.

There was nothing we could do as they were paid for when Mark booked them before we travelled and were non refundable, so we had a meal at the pub (sorry, hotel) which was surprisingly good and not overpriced and whilst eating I came up with another idea. As we were going to be heading south to Bempton on the east coast of Yorkshire we would be passing near to Seahouses in Northumberland where the boats sail to the Farne Islands to view the famous seabird colonies.

Mark had never been to 'The Farnes' so why not give it a go. Courtesy of the internet I checked the logistics and it all worked so we resolved to detour there on our way to Bempton tomorrow. Feeling better about matters we retired to our respective bedrooms resolving to leave the Portmann Hotel as soon as possible on Sunday and vowing never to return. We decided on a 6am departure and arranged with the staff to let ourselves out in the morning.

The wind was predicted to have dropped by tomorrow and it would be sunny.

To be continued

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